The more accustomed I become to Orvieto, the more excited I am to travel. With a home base, I'm all the more raring to go.
After the conclusion of our Designo Drawing class, we had a nice long weekend with no obligations and endless places to see. While some stayed put to enjoy the leisure of Orvieto, I went with a group of 8 girls to the Cinque Terre, a collection of 5 villages on the northern coast of Italy, right on the Ligurian Sea. We stayed in a swanky AirBnB just outside the Cinque Terre, in walking distance from the beach. After being in the dead center of Italy for a month, water was pure luxury.
So, we spent a couple of days hopping from town to town, swimming in the Ligurian, and returning to our apartment to make meals together. We started at the far village, Monterosso, which was charming and beachy. Swimming in that clear water was surreal--the perfect cool temperature and green countryside always in sight. Then, to Vernazza, which was by far my favorite. Vernazza has this sweet dock that juts right into the sea with colorful boats all in a line. In one view, you've got the mountains, the sea, and the entirety of Vernazza. Just spectacular. After Vernazza came Corniglia, which has 365 steps leading up to the actual town--we counted, and there are indeed 365 steps. The view was worth it though, especially with the early evening horizon aglow. At Manarola, we watched the sunset right on the water, perched on rocks. I couldn't believe the colors in the water--from a distance, the waves glowed orange, but under my feet, I could see every shade of blue-green imaginable. Riomaggiore was the last village, and since it was dark by the time we arrived, we experienced all of the classic romance of walking through an Italian city in the evening--atop cobblestone streets, and lampposts to light the way.
While I loved seeing all that coastal beauty, and the excitement of exploring a new place, the Cinque Terre was far too touristy for my liking. It seemed like we saw a lot of the same people all day, visitors hopping from town to town like we were. This makes me appreciate a town like Orvieto, that aren't catered towards tourism, or bumping up prices for foreigners. All goes to say, it sure was good after the weekend to return to Orvieto.
And then, for an utter change of pace, the following weekend my friend Jimmy and I headed for Munich, Germany--Oktoberfest bound.
I actually had very little expectation for this trip--not that I anticipated anything negative, but that I had no idea what was to come. My perception of Germany is skewed by WWII media, and I have never come close to encountering a beer festival. I had everything to learn.
The one thing I could expect was a long-awaited reunion with friends. In Munich, I got to meet up with a few friends from school who are studying abroad in Oxford--one of which is my roommate of the past two years. This was sweet.
Munich is an interesting city--couldn't be more different from the romantic Italian charm. Munich is incredibly industrial, with not much color or variation in the architecture. Jimmy and I took a bus from Rome to Munich, and were in awe of the Germany countryside, which couldn't be more contrasted by the infrastructures. Almost every restaurant, fancy or not, appeared from the outside like a hole-in-the-wall. We saw the most amount of chains in Munich than I've seen in a while--it's worth noting that while I scoffed at all the Americans rushing towards Starbucks, I definitely got a pumpkin spice latte, and regret nothing.
The first thing we did upon arrival was head for the Dachau Concentration Camp, an incredibly moving, and haunting, experience. We showed up and it was this desolate open field with bare concrete houses—rows and rows where 26 houses used to be, but now only 2 are left standing. Each house was supposed to hold about 200 people each, but ended up holding up to 2,000 each. The gas chamber and crematorium were just unbelievable. But then, in the back of the camp, there’s this line of magnificent modern buildings, all right in a row: Protestant Church, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Jewish Temple, and a convent. They had almost no angles in the architecture, and some of them no doors, so they just envelop the beholder with these gorgeous sky spaces. The modern religious structures were a cool way of acknowledging the destruction, while also pointing people in a hopeful direction.
And then, throw Oktoberfest into the mix, where millions of people gather every year over the course of 4 weekends to drink (arguably) the best beer in the world. The fest was nothing short of insane--just a massive amusement park surrounded by these Gothic churches (you can see what I'm talking in about in the photo below).
As for the beer, there are tons of these massive buildings called "tents", where people wait in line for hours outside just to get a table, and then stay there all day. Each tent serves one kind of beer, and snacks galore. German food is hearty and heavy--the best things we had were massive pretzals and currywurst (a huge bratwurst with curry sauce and a homemade bun--yum). The first day in the park, we thought that surely it couldn't be that hard to get a table. We were very wrong--if you don't go early, it's nearly impossible. We finally found a spot in a biergarten outside, and then made a plan for the following day.
Saturday, Jimmy and I got up at 5am, and waited through the sunrise outside one of the beer tents, alongside thousands of other people. Luckily, we got a table this time. There we were, at 9 in the morning, sitting at a long table in between some other American college students and a group of Italians, all clinking our beer mugs. Absurd, and also a blast. We chatted with people around us, literally from all over the world, and used excessive hand motions to overcome the language barriers. By 2pm, we called it quits, relinquished our table, and headed back to the hostel to sleep. Oktoberfest? Check.
One recurring theme that I trying to adjust to while abroad is the lack of control that I have--even with immense planning, over and over again I encounter things that I did not want to happen, that I would have planned differently had I known, etc.
Jimmy and I took a bus back from Munich to Rome, which unbeknownst to us, arrived to Rome at 2am. The last train from Rome to Orvieto is at 11pm. We waited 4 hours for a 6am train, eating tiramisu Mcflurry's in a 24-hour McDonald's, and then went to class. I would have planned this differently.
But each time I travel, I learn to look at certain details that might pass me by the first time. Some lessons are more painfully learned, perhaps...
The farther I go, the deeper the sigh as I return to Orvieto.